India's Base at Ayni, Tajikistan

I did a half-hour show on the Ayni air base in West Tajikistan for Headlines Today last Sunday. The base will be declared ready for operations next month under a trilateral agreement between Tajikistan, Russia and India. Incidentally, the use of the base is classified, which is why both the Tajik and Indian governments deny that India's role is anything more than a developer of the base's runway. The slides you see here are taken from a classified presentation that the IAF was given late 2006, shortly before the base was completed. Here's the shortened text of the special report I did for the channel:

Once called the white elephant of Asia, India's strategic aspirations have now finally come of age. The country's first military base in a foreign country will be declared ready for use next month. Welcome to Ayni, Tajikistan, India's first military outpost in a foreign land. Bare minutes from Tajikistan's border with war-torn Afghanistan, the base gives India a footprint for the first time ever in the region's troubled history. But why here in alien and landlocked Tajikistan has India chosen to inaugurate the foreign military base it will have access to?

On the face of it, India's entry into Tajikistan is a diplomatic move to help develop the country and the region. But then again, no foreign policy venture is guided by selflessness. Over the years, the Ayni air base will allow India to respond rapidly to the entire spectrum of conventional and unconventional threats from the typically unstable Afghanistan-Pakistan arc, including events like the hijacking of flight IC-814. Even more significantly, it gives India a restricted but crucial ability to deliver special air and ground forces into conflict zones any time they are required. That apart, India definitely wants a piece of Central Asia's promising gas and energy reserves.

The government has asked for a formal and binding mandate from the Cabinet Committee on Security to conclude the agreement with Tajikistan next month. Once that happens, the Indian Army and Air Force will begin moving limited quanities of trainer aircraft and equipment to Tajikistan. The base is a legacy of the former NDA government, but will shortly be open to Indian use. And that may be a reason to feel patriotic, sure, because this is India emphatically saying that its interests lie well beyond its borders.

The Ayni base had an Indian Army hospital that was used extensively during the Afghanistan operations in 2002. Subsequently, Indian military engineers from the Border Roads Organisation have extended and relaid the runway and made it fighting fit for combat logistics and war-fighting operations, if ever the need arises.

The Russians have given India the option of sending a squadron of Mi-17 helicopters to Ayni, with a detachment of pilots and support personnel. With Russia and Uzbekistan just next door, logistics support has been assured. Russia has also offered to uild fighter maintenance infrastructure at Ayni with India. The option will be made available to India to base a squadron of MiG-29 fighters at the base, but this will not be in the near future, though the implications of this are huge -- Indian fighters can be scrambled at a moment's notice for operations anywhere in the area. With mid-air refuelling support promised by the Russians, their reach will be immense.

Copyright 2007 Headlines Today

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